I went back to work when my oldest was 7 months, my youngest 3.5 months, and by then I was working long hours, and sometimes weekends during my posting in Hanoi. I was lucky because I was still able to be involved at pre-school but I also missed out on things like the day-to-day stuff of kids growing up.
I remember an Australian colleague in Hanoi recounting a story about another father at the international school who didn’t want to give up his weekly golf game to coach the kids soccer team. What he said to the other dad really stuck with me:
“your kids are growing up really fast, and soon they won’t want you coaching them. Make the most of the fact they do want you around, and your golf game will be there later”.
Now, I’d like to think my boys will always want me around but it did get me thinking. I also realised I was dreading the thought of work more and more and I was procrastinating by doing other things when I should have been focusing on my work (which meant I worked longer hours because I still got stuff done). I realised that if I was going to miss out on that time with my kids and my family and friends, it had to be to do something that I really loved and that I felt really passionate about.
I didn’t actually set out to have my own business. As I have written in some previous blog posts, deciding to set up my consultancy was a decision that evolved. Leaving Hanoi I said I was happy to work full-time and long hours, provided I could have some flexibility about where I worked and again, was doing something I really believed in. But as I settled into the life of the stay-at-home mum/student in the Barossa, I realised that actually I did want a lifestyle that provided a lot more flexibility and the opportunity to be my own boss.
So unlike a lot of other Mums that become business owners and entrepreneurs, this decision wasn’t just about spending time with my kids, and consequently, I don’t always confine my working hours to the time they are at school or asleep. I’ve heard a lot of entrepreneurs talk about always being present for their kids, and not working if they are around, and I completely get that. I certainly don’t want my work to stop them from being able to do after-school activities or spend time with friends. But some days, when they are just having out at home (and they are only 6.5 and almost 5), I do work from our home office. That said, I do prefer to work when they aren’t here so I’m not distracted by constant requests for food and the adjudication of fights!
At first it wasn’t really a conscious decision, but then I realised that they really didn’t “get” that Mummy wasn’t working. Working to them involved me putting on a suit or a nice dress and “going to work”. It probably didn’t help that to start with, I was also studying.
I hope as my business takes off, they will start to understand more about what I do. For now, the 6.5 year old thinks my business is my website and he’s very encouraging.
So I was listening to lots of great podcasts and this idea of not working while your kids were around made me uncomfortable. Maybe it was guilt, but I also realised that I want my boys to see me working, for a number of reasons:
- I want my boys to understand the value of hard work, failure, entrepreneurship and setting goals.
- I want them to see a strong woman and realise both parents have jobs, careers and contribute to the running of the house. Having boys, I think it’s especially important that they don’t pick up gender stereotypes from a young age.
- I want them to appreciate that Simon and I work hard to provide stuff for them. Our lifestyle in Hanoi probably set up some false expectations for the boys – having a housekeeper, disposable income to buy stuff and lots of holidays and we are working to refocus that
- I want them to understand that as important as they are, the world does not revolve around them. Simon and I also have goals and interests and friends. We’re a family, and a team and we all have to play a part to make things work.
- I want them to be able to play together, entertain themselves, use initiative and be creative.
At the end of the day, it’s all about balance. Right now, as I work on finding my first clients, I am still getting that balance right. It seems to me that technology has changed the way we work and there are more parents –male and female – working from home. While the goal for many, and the reason for doing this is to spend time with their kids, I don’t think anyone should be feeling guilty if their kids are playing on their own (or watching TV) or waiting 5 minutes for their next snack while Mum or Dad gets some work done. Hopefully the next generation seeing the entrepreneurs and small business owners of today, working hard and hustling to make a success of their business is providing role models and inspiration for a future generation of entrepreneurs and business people.
P.S: I got my new business cards last week and I am so damned excited. After years of plain black and white cards with only a government crest for decoration (and maybe a foreign translation on the back), I finally have fantastic, funky cards for my own business. I’m so grateful to my graphic designer Erica Brady, who was able to take my creative brief what she knew of me from our interactions on social media over the last year, to create my fantastic brand identity. It has been great to go to events and hand these out and I’m looking forward to updating my website, social media and other marketing collateral in the coming weeks.