More and more Australian women (including many in Newcastle and the Hunter) are opting to start up their own businesses, driven by the promise of greater flexibility than the traditional workplace. However, is the trend creating unreal expectations about work-life balance? Or, can building a business actually help women achieve that goal?
Popular culture would have us believe that the modern women we can have it all – kids, a career and a nice pedicure to boot. But as a working mum in her thirties, I’m surrounded by women who are in a similar situation to myself – trying to find balance in the chaos that is life. After a glass of wine (or sometimes no wine at all) it doesn’t take long for women to admit that working and child-rearing is a hard slog – and not just a slog for women; but for the partners, grandparents, nannies and other familial support that is necessary to keep modern families chugging along.
Back in 2010, after I had my first baby, I thought I had found the answer. Using skills and contacts gained from university and a few years in the workforce, I decided that I would work for myself, from home. A great idea at the time, and one that went really well until I actually started winning some work, and adding a few more children to the mix.
Like so many of the other women who have opted to run their own business, I enjoy the flexibility that is often so hard won in traditional workplaces. I can make a casserole while listening in to meetings on my headphones, and spend 90% of my life in tights and joggers (despite getting dressed for work being a new year’s resolution for the past three years). I don’t have to justify the time I spend at my children’s school or sporting events, and when my two year old is sick I can hold her for hours while still getting some work done.
But as any working mother will tell you, trying to achieve a balance between good parenting and delivering for clients is a daily struggle, and as elusive as a pre-baby stomach. For someone like me who finds boundaries a difficult concept, there is no boundary between working and not working.
Sundays have morphed into just another day in the office and night-time trash TV viewing is often interrupted by an iPhone that I just can’t bring myself to turn off. While writing this I am conscious that I should probably be out the back kicking the footy with the kids or making sure my seven year old is doing his homework. I have to go away in a couple of weeks to visit an overseas client, and leaving the kids for long periods of time really pulls at the heart-strings.
Having your own business means that you can never say no to work, and no matter how much work you have, there is always an underlying anxiety that you need to be hungry for more in case the flood dries up. It also means going above and beyond for clients in a way that I wouldn’t probably do for an employer, which often means less time and energy for the people that I love most.
On the days when I feel like I have it together on the work front, I am inevitably brought down a peg or two by a parenting fail – forgetting canteen duty, or remembering canteen duty but forgetting that my hair is tied back with a pair of my daughter’s undies before I leave the house.
As you are probably aware by now, I by no means claim to do the business-owner- hands-on- mum thing well. But I’ve learnt a thing or two over the past seven years that may be of some benefit to other women thinking about making the plunge into business ownership.
I have an AWESOME husband, and I really couldn’t do any of this without him. Despite having his own very demanding, all-encompassing job – he lets me stay in bed of a morning responding to urgent emails that have come in overnight. He gets the kids breakfast while I get my sh*t together.
To help you thrive, I would recommend doing what you do best and outsourcing the rest. I am good at creative stuff but very, very bad at maths. I make sure I have a great accountant that relieves me of any post-primary school mathematics, and that keeps the tax office on side.
Learning how to put aside guilt is also a good idea (although I’m not quite there yet). Feeling guilty about going the extra mile for a client but failing to be at home to put your kids to bed is something all working mums deal with. Finding ways to suppress such guilt (whether through wine or more sustainable means) is also highly recommended.
I don’t forget for a second that I am fortunate to have the luxury of choice available to me. For so many women, with more important jobs than mine, working from home is not an option. For those women with professions that are most important to us as a society – teachers, doctors, nurses and police women for example – working remotely or working for oneself is of course, impossible. I also acknowledge that the challenges and demands they face on a daily basis are much greater than mine.
In saying all of this, even through the times it gets tough – I wouldn’t swap my stay-at-home business for anything else. I love doing what I do and the freedom that it allows me to be involved in my children’s life makes it the perfect choice for me. I’ll keep striving to find that ever elusive work-life-balance, even if it feels just a little out of reach sometimes and it means leaving the house with the three year old’s undies in my hair.