Being a working mum is all kinds of things – a privilege, a challenge, a juggle – and with a baby about to turn one, I should know! What it isn’t is easy! In honour of Mother’s Day this weekend, I rounded up seven impressive women from the worlds of interiors, homewares and design to ask them how they manage to have – and do – it all!
KATE PASCOE SQUIRES is one half of homewares brand Kate & Kate, known for their beautiful blankets, throws and towels. She is also mum to Harry (6) and Helena (4). She started Kate & Kate with her sister in law Kate Pascoe when Helena was just six months old and Harry was two.
“It was actually the perfect time to start a business,” she says. “Although we both had our hands full, there was also lots of time spent feeding, walking etc – and a desperate need to take some time for ourselves and get out of that ‘baby’ headspace. Our business started organically, so there was no pressure in the early days. We didn’t know what shape Kate & Kate was going to take, and by the time we worked that out, the kids were a little bit older and we could dedicate more time to developing our strategy.”
These days, with Harry at school and Helena in pre-school three days a week, with the help of a nanny two days a week, Kate can get four solid days of work in. “I juggle through the other three days. I like to walk Harry to school in the mornings and spend time with both kids in the afternoons, which means there is a break in my working day – but for that freedom, I am happy to then jump back into it for a few hours at night.
“We don’t have any family in Sydney, so I came to terms pretty early on that paid help is my only option and I’m cool with that. Our nanny has been with us since Helena was born and she’s part of the family. At the minute, the strategy is working!”
While she did have the dreaded mum guilt, being proactive in making changes to allow her to spend more time with the kids has alleviated this. “It makes for very busy days, but I just felt as though I was missing out on too much and we were all suffering. My new mantra is, ‘I can only do what I can do!’ I am a very proud working mum. I want my kids to have privileges, but I need them to see that you have to work for them. There isn’t a money tree out the back of the terrace!
“I also think it’s good for kids to see that the world doesn’t always revolve around them – I can’t be there every minute of every day and you know what? That’s ok. They will be ok. It’s a good life lesson.”
While self-employment brings welcome flexibility, it also brings “giant” responsibility. “The buck stops with you. It can be terrifying and empowering. There are a lot of people to keep happy too – your employees, stockists, manufacturers, media etc. We run our own business, but that doesn’t mean we’re not accountable to a lot of other people. Running your own show isn’t all love hearts and sunshine (as it may seem on Instagram) — there are amazing benefits, but get ready for a huge slog, lots of spreadsheets and time away from your family.”
Kate’s top tips: Get help. Family is always best if that’s an option, but if not, get prepared to pay for it: nanny, daycare… don’t think you can do it all by yourself. If you can afford to, outsource the jobs you don’t like or don’t find rewarding. When you are juggling a family and a business, time is precious – don’t waste it!
ANDREA REMBECK runs kids luxury label Tutu du Monde and is mum to Alyna (11). Her daughter was actually the inspiration to start the business! “It has really grown with her, I started very small and nimble so I was able to juggle new motherhood with the challenges of a start-up and as she got older, it got easier for me to extend my work hours,” Andrea says.
Having an older child now, the juggle is a lot easier. Her husband works from home and does most of the school drop-offs and pick-ups which enables Andrea to have ‘proper’ work days. “I don’t have to pick up a lot of ‘undone’ work after-hours and on the weekend. When Alyna was younger, my husband was away overseas a lot on extended work commitments and with no relatives in Australia, I often had to juggle work, daycare, babysitters, etc. I used to work a lot at night. I had to fit it in where I could.”
There’s still the occasional bout of guilt though – mainly when she travels and can’t take Alyna with her. “However, I usually tell myself that a happy (and fulfilled) mother creates a nurturing and happy environment for her kids. I am a believer in old fashioned values and I think working sets a great example for your kids. They know it requires hard work and discipline to be a success and to fulfil one’s dreams. I don’t want my daughter to grow up and aspire to a Kardashian life.”
Andrea says it’s never too late to start your own business. “Maybe when you have young kids, it takes a little longer to get it off the ground and grow it, but with a good support network it’s possible, especially when the kids get a bit older. When Alyna was younger, I was running the business from home which helps, as you can work around nap times and you don’t have to commute. Obviously daycare and relatives can help a lot.”
Andrea’s top tips: Be organised and have a clear strategy. You don’t have endless amounts of time.
KRISTY WITHERS runs iconic kid’s furniture and décor brand, Incy Interiors and is mum to Oscar (7) and Polly (4). It was Oscar turning two and needing a ‘big boy bed’ which sparked the business idea and she found out she was pregnant with Polly about two weeks before launching Incy. It was a very welcome surprise after multiple miscarriages and starting IVF.
With both children now in school, Kristy admits life is much easier and she employs her sister as their nanny! “She picks the kids up from school and will take them home, do homework and have a bath. This is amazing as it means that when we get home we just hang out and have quality time together.”
When the kids were younger and Kristy was working night and day, she had more than her share of mum guilt. “It absolutely broke my heart that I missed Polly’s first day of pre-kinder because I was in the US at a tradeshow. Polly of course didn’t bat an eyelid but I am still not over it!
“I love that when Polly plays ‘pretend’ she is ‘working’. I want her to know that she too can be successful and doesn’t need to rely on anyone else. Both my husband and I have our own businesses and we work long hours. Our children understand that they have things other kids don’t because mum and dad work hard. Self employment is certainly a hard road as you need to be available to both your family and your business 24 hours a day and there is no one else to pick up the slack.” Being a mum should never put you off following your dream though: “Having children will only make you more organised and more ruthless with your time, which is a good thing.”
Kristy’s top tips: Divide your time. Whilst working from home I felt permanently guilty – if I was working I felt like I should be with the kids and if I was with the kids I felt bad for not working. I also just worked around the clock and felt like I didn’t get a break. The day that I got a separate office and started working specific office hours was the day I got my life back. Now I go to work from 9 to 5 and I try to limit any work that I take home so that when I am home I am present. If you are spending quality time with your children, the mum guilt definitely lessens!
ALISON WYATT runs Hepburn Hardware, an online store selling knobs and handles. She’s also mum to Zara (6) and Oliver (4). She started the business when she was on maternity leave with Oliver and Zara was 2. “I could see, in our situation, that working a normal 9 to 5 wasn’t going to work when our kids were at school. Zara was starting school in two years’ time so I had to make it happen within that timeframe. Fortunately it did.”
When the kids were small, Alison used childcare as she was still working her job in the city and running Hepburn Hardware by night. “Once Hepburn had enough traction, I left my city job, cut back their childcare hours and worked when they were asleep. It was busy at the time juggling two jobs and two small children, but it was a small price to pay for the balance we have now. These days I just work when they’re at school or kindy. My husband is also a shift worker and occasionally has days off during the week to do the school run etc. while I work.
“I wasn’t really into my city job and it made me feel guilty being away from my kids for something I wasn’t passionate about. Leaving your child in tears at daycare isn’t a great way for your family to start the day. Now I work when they’re at school/kindy or asleep. Separating work time from family time has been the lynchpin, because if I try to combine them, I end up doing both badly. I tick the business along in the school holidays, so I can spend as much time with them and then ramp it back up during term time. I’m also able to drop them off and pick them up from school every day, which has also been a guilt saver.”
Showing your kids you have drive, determination and commitment is a great lesson, according to Alison, who says her own parents set a really good example for her. “Allowing my kids to see you can have an enjoyable working life, in a less generic way, will hopefully open their minds to the possibilities out there. Your outlook on work can have a big effect on your outlook on life, so I’m keen to show my kids a positive one.”
Wanting more flexibility was a big motivator for her to start the business in the first place. “It’s a lot more work involved when you’re out on your own, but you can do it around whatever your family is up to. I’ve never worked harder in my life but I’m spending the most time I’ve ever had with my kids.”
Alison’s not the first in her circle of friends to have started a business after becoming a mum. “We’re all doing very different things but use each other as sounding boards for ideas and problems. I found working on my own challenging, as I have always preferred to work with a team, so having a good network of women me has given me amazing support. I couldn’t have done it without them.”
Alison’s top tips: Lists are my biggest saviour. I use an app called Evernote on my phone. It’s a great way to get whatever is in my head down onto an easily accessible platform. Then when I get a chance to do some work, I can do it fast and efficiently. At the end of each night, I add what I need to do the next day, so I don’t go to bed thinking about it.
CHLOE BROOKMAN is one half of children’s furniture and homewares business, Olli Ella and mum to Tennyson (6), Arlo (4) and baby Nell (pictured). “When I started Olli Ella I had just had my first child, who was 10 months. Olli Ella was absolutely inspired by motherhood, and to this day it affects the products that we design and produce.”
If you’d asked her how she balances motherhood and business before Nell came along, Chloe would have told you that she works during school hours, and tries to be as effective as she can in that time. “These days, though it’s done mainly through an iPhone, during feeds. “I haven’t quite figured out how to navigate the balance of work and family with three little ones but it’s early days still and I’m sure we will get there!”
She’s managing to put things in perspective when it comes to feeling guilty about being a working mum. “I had a real moment a couple of weeks ago when, after picking the boys up from school, I found myself shut in our room with an unsettled baby girl, I knew that my boys needed me, I had a mountain of emails to troll through (it wasn’t going to happen any time soon) and I hadn’t started on dinner. I felt like I was falling short, that my little boys were suffering because I had spread myself too thin. And then I had this thought; I thought to myself that when I look back on my own childhood it is more of a feeling, than remembering specific days. I thought that with my kids, sure there were going to be days when their mama was far less than perfect, days where I couldn’t play with them as much as I wanted to, or forgot to help with homework, or lost my temper quicker than the situation deserved. But it’s the foundation that counts, that their home is full of love, play and music. And that I am a great mother most of the time, and to forgive myself the moments when I do fall short. Because hey, we are human!”
More than setting the example of being successful, Chloe wants to show her kids that you can love what you do for work. And as for thinking you’ve left it too late to start your own thing after you’ve had kids, Chloe says it’s the best time to do! “Something happens after having a baby, it’s sort of a shift in perspective that makes you re-evaluate everything. Things that were important to you before, might not be so anymore, and things that you never imagined would be of interest or concern to you, suddenly are. There’s a joke in my family that after every baby I have made a major life decision. After my first baby I started Olli Ella, immediately after my second we moved from London to Sydney, and now with Nell we have just opened a third office in Los Angeles. It’s never too late to start a business and sometimes taking time away from your job, like for example, on maternity leave, is the perfect time to incubate and hatch a new venture.”
Chloe’s top tips: Have a sense of humour, wine, and embrace the chaos because it is crazy and awesome. These are undoubtedly the greatest of times.
TINA CLARK started luxury wardrobe storage brand Sagitine and is mum to Sabine (6) and Gisele (3), also known as Gigi. The business name is a combination of hers and her daughters’ names. Wanting to be at home with her girls more spurred former trader Tina on to start her business.
As a single mum, she has a full-time, live-in nanny. “I realised early on that I couldn’t manage on my own. Sabine is at school now and Gigi is at daycare three days a week. Working from home is a bit of a struggle on the two days when Gigi is at home.”
Of all the women we interviewed, she’s the only one who says she doesn’t suffer from mum guilt. “I always think I’m doing the best I can and that will be ok! I sometimes get the dad guilt and worry that my kids will get angry with me when they get older as both their dads are donors. But I think it’s very important for kids to see their mothers work as it creates ambition, drive and independence.”
When Tina worked as a trader she couldn’t even get time off to take Sabine to her first day of daycare. “It was just impossible! This gives me the flexibility to work at my own pace and be actively involved in dropping off and picking up my children when I need to.”
Perhaps feeling the pressure to provide more as a single parent, Tina warns to be careful about the finances and the time it will take to become profitable. “Let’s just say I was a little naive in hindsight about the realities of setting up a manufacturing business.”
Tina’s top tips: Keep smiling and don’t worry too much if the house is a mess! Try not to feel guilty about missing out on events at school as it’s impossible to do everything. Best to commit to a handful of things that you can 100% dedicate yourself to and do them well.
BEL KURTZ runs Petite Vintage Interiors and is mum to Holly (5) and Asher (3). She started the business when her second was just six months old. “After being on maternity leave for over two years, I definitely had a desire to focus my attention on something else in addition to my small people. At the start, I was able to easily fit the work hours required around the girls but as the business grew I went from working in nap times and evenings, which was quite manageable, to working through the day with them at home. This became more challenging as they grew older and gave up their naps! It was really hard to take client calls with two screaming kids in the background but I look back on that time and smile because I was able to indulge my passion for design while staying home with my daughters.”
Now Holly has started school and Asher is at kinder three days a week, she has more child-free hours. “But the time between school drop off and pick up would have to be the shortest hours in the day! My husband pitches in around the house in the afternoons between 4pm and 7pm for dinner and homework and then I’m back in the office most evenings after the girls have gone to bed. I always have my phone on me so if we have after school activities that leave me sitting in the car for extended periods, I can get onto emails.”
Bel accepts the mum guilt as being quite normal, particularly if you feel like your business is pulling you away from your family. “It helps to have a supportive partner with a flexible job who can be there if you can’t, or even grandparents who might be able to attend events that you’re unable to get to due to work commitments. The best thing I can do is admit to myself that I’m doing my best to juggle everything and I just can’t do it all. When things are a little quieter on the work front I try to attend as many events as possible so I don’t feel like we’re missing out so much.”
Bel watched her mum work hard in her own business and says it taught her she could chase any dream she had. “Hard work and determination do pay off and I think that’s a great example for our daughters.” When it comes to starting your own business, she says you just have to start! “Set a small goal and just squeeze in every spare minute that you have to try to reach it. It might be something as small as selling 10 products or getting 500 followers on Instagram! Don’t be too hard on yourself and don’t measure your success on the success of others. Small wins lead to bigger things!”
Bel’s top tips: Prioritise your own health first. Have a family planner that includes your intended work hours for the week with dedicated family time. I always make sure I have 45 minutes with the girls before bed for stories and cuddles. Build a great support network of trusted babysitters, you never know when you might need them. You don’t have to say yes to everything, on the work front and the family front. If you can, outsource.
Photography: Susan Papazian
HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY TO ALL OUR MUM READERS! WHETHER YOU RUN A BUSINESS OR NOT, YOU’RE A SUPERSTAR!
Great article. Just what I needed right now!